Much has been made about how Mauricio Pochettino is the ninth permanent manager Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy has appointed since he took charge of the club back in 2001. And the scribes have not failed to rub in the fact that, despite all these comings and goings, Spurs have singularly failed to achieve the status that they feel is their due, at least a top four finish in the Premier League every season, garnered with the odd trophy as well.
Some critics have pointed out that other clubs also change managers. During this time Real Madrid have had twelve managers and Bayern Munich are on their ninth, the only difference is that while Real and Bayern’s success in that period cannot be doubted, and include winning the Champions League, all Spurs have done is get into the Champions League once and win one League Cup.
However, what all this has missed is that Levy has shown that he is firmly wedded to the European model of football where the man seen as “the boss” in English football is only the coach of the first team. Under this system the person who is really long term in any club is the director of football. It is worth emphasising that in appointing Pochettino Spurs describe him as head coach, not manager. For Levy to stick with the continental model is clearly both significant and important.
Back in 2004 Levy made much of bringing it to English football and, with some fanfare, unveiled the pairing of Jacques Santini, the former coach of the French national team, as Tottenham head coach and Frank Arnesen as director of football, although his official title was sporting director.
But that proved a disaster. Santini did not last the season, indeed a mere 13 games, and what is more the criticism was not just directed at the Frenchman’s style of coaching but the whole concept of this dual management of a football club. It was seen as un-British, very alien and the almost unanimous feeling was it would never catch on and even Levy seemed to share that view. By the end of the season Arnesen was on his way to Chelsea and Martin Jol had, effectively, recreated the old style football manager the English are comfortable with and love.
But Levy did not give up on the idea. Damien Commoli came in as director of football a year later and remained for three years before the arrival of Harry Redknapp made his position impossible and Commoli left. However it was clear Levy still hankered for a return to the European system and he could not wait to resurrect the position of football director. He finally managed it last season when with Harry out of the way, Franco Baldini arrived at the Lane from Roma. It is interesting to note that, after a season of much upheaval, which has seen two head coaches in Andre Villa Boas and then Tim Sherwood, there has never been any hint that Baldini should have any reason to feel insecure. He remains secure at White Hart Lane and is often pictured next to Levy, the eyes and ears of the Tottenham board on matters relating to football.
It seems to bear out what Commoli told me some months ago when I put it to him that the English brought up on the football boss with total power, as Brian Clough claimed to be, would never accept a continental style football director. His answer was to contrast how he was received with how Baldini was. “At my first press conference [at Tottenham in 2005], the first question I was asked was ‘Do you think there is a future for a director of football in England?’ When he [Franco Baldini] went in everybody said, ‘that’s great’. In 2005 when I went in everybody said, ‘that’s going to be a disaster’.”
However, in a certain sense Levy has had to give way. In order to get Pochettino the Spurs chairman has also had to bring in his backroom staff. One reason for having a continental style system of head coach and director of football is when the head coach is sacked, you only have to change one individual not the entire coaching team. In this case it was clear Pochettino was not going to move without bringing his assistant Jesus Perez, first team coach Miguel D’Agostino and goalkeeping coach Toni Jimenez. This means quite a shake up for the Tottenham first team management.
Here it is worth looking at how Manchester United have presented their recruitment of Louis van Gaal. The club have described him as manager but he is clearly not a manager in the old mould. So he is not bringing all his assistants to United in the way Pochettino has done. Instead the Dutchman has confirmed Ryan Giggs will remain and the club has also talked of keeping Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and Phil Neville. But at Tottenham the old boys future with Pochettino arrival looks very insecure. Tony Parks, Steffen Freund and Les Ferdinand, all of whom have played for Spurs, are almost certain to be on their way out of the Lane.
So while Levy carries on with his continental style of football management he has had to adapt, perhaps forced to change because having lost out on van Gaal to Manchester United he could not afford to take chances and lose out on Pochettino as well. The continental style remains at Tottenham but with an English twist.